Skip to main content

Full text of "The battle of Campbell's Island"

See other formats


. The Battle of 
CampbelVs Island 

r p 

E 356 

.C2 f13 

Copy 2 

Book L^iAJiL 



Upper Mississippi Sketches 

The Battle of Campbeirs Island 


William A.'Meese 

.c - 

By trajosxsi 







Object of This Sketch. 

Some years ago, when I first read an account of the engagement on 
July 19, 1814, between the Americans and Black Hawk's band at 
Campbell's Island, I became anxious to learn more of the particulars. 
I was disappointed in finding but slight if any mention of this affair 
in the histories of our country. One history of Illinois devotes a little 
over a page to this battle, and another about a page and a half. These 
are the most extended notices that this battle has ever received. Since 
reading my first account, I have from time to time found mention of 
this engagement, and in the following pages I present such information 
as I have secured. 

This sketch is not intended as an expression of opinion on the merits 
or demerits of any person connected with this engagement; it is sim- 
ply a compilation of facts, arranged and put together, so that any who 
may be interested in this event, can secure such information as I have 
been able to gather, without going to the trouble of consulting numer- 
ous authorities, most of which are beyond the reach of the ordinary 

I wish to here thank General F. C. Ainsworth, the Military Secretary, 
for his courtesy in securing for me a copy of the official report of this 
battle, made by General Benjamin Howard to Hon. John Armstrong, 
Secretary of War, and copies of the official reports of this battle made 
by Lieutenants Campbell and Riggs, to their commanding officer. Gen- 
eral Benjamin Howard. These reports clear up a great deal that has 
heretofore been but mere conjecture, and add much that was hereto- 
fore unknown. 


Moline, Illinois, 

July 4, 1904. 

Campbell's Island. 

Among the hundreds of islands lying in the Mississippi river, those 
of the upper Mississippi seem to have been more favored by nature, 
and among all the many beautiful islands, the two most favored spots 
are Rock Island and Campbell's Island. The former was in early days 
selected by the United States Government as a military post, and is 
today the seat of the largest arsenal in our country. 

Campbell's Island is six miles east of Moline, for many years it was 
owned by private parties, and its surface, that was once trod by the Red 
man, was for many years used for agricultural purposes. 

This island was the home of the grape ; so thickly were its trees 
clustered with these vines, that it almost seems as though nature had 
selected this island as the central vineyard of the upper Mississippi 
valley. The birds also found the island a pleasing mating ground, for 
they have always been found more plentiful on Campbell's trees than 
at any other place in this region. 

Here the Red man came to gather the fruit so liked by his people, 
and here, too, was one of his favored resorts where he was wont to come 
to win the finney tribe that made their home along its sandy shores. 

Today the island is the property of the Mississippi Valley Traction 
Company, and they have connected it with the city of Moline by an 
interurban electric street car line, and thrown its two hundred and fifty 
broad acres, covered with beautiful groves, and lined with sandy shores, 
open to the seekers after pleasure and health. 

On the north shore is a beach of sand, whose whiteness rivals the sands 
of the ocean. These sands, and the trees that grow along the shore and 
cast their shadows far out over the broad Mississippi, are all that remain 
as memories of that eventful day when the American, bound on his 
mission "to keep the peace," was waylaid by the cruel and misguided 
savages, and innocent blood was shed to render more crimson the story 
of border warfare. 

The shore of Campbell's Island is historic and holy ground, and it is 
hoped that at some early day, our legislature, when this body is enact- 
ing laws, will not forget to erect a suitable monument on Campbell's 
shores to mark the spot where American blood was shed in defense of 
its country in the war of 1812. 

Early Settlements. 

Although the upper Mississippi was explored in 1673 by the Jesuit 
Father Jacques Marquette and his companion, Louis Joliet, and after 


them by numerous other hardy Frenchmen, there were few settlements 
north of St. Louis until after the war of 1812. 

The upper Mississippi region was almost unknown, nothing had ever 
been published concerning it, save Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike's report of 
the expedition he made by order of the government fn 1805-7, and the 
occasional vague and exaggerated reports of hunters and boatmen. 

Today this Valley is considered the center of civilization of the United 
States; at the breaking out of the war of 1812, it was known as the 
"far west;" Illinois territory then contained only about nine thousand 

St. Louis was the largest city or settlement on the Mississippi north 
of New Orleans, and contained less than three thousand inhabitants. 
The only other settlements on the upper river were : 

Cape au Gris (also called Capais Grais) a French hamlet in Illinois 
on the left bank of the Mississippi river, a few miles north of the mouth 
of the Illinois river, where was a promontory of grit or sandstone, directly 
across from which on the western shore in 1813, a log fort, known as 
Cape au Gris Fort was erected, and which during the year 1814, was 
commanded by Captain David Musick, with a company of Missouri 
rangers. (1) 

Dubuque's lead mine, a small settlement at or near where the city of 
Dubuque, Iowa, now is, where in 1788, a French Canadian, named Julien 
Dubuque, obtained from the Sac Indians, a grant of land on the west 
bank of the Mississippi. 

Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a small village containing about one hun- 
dred families of French Canadians, mostly traders, who had purchased 
the site from the Indians about 1783, and most of whom had married 
Indian wives. 

Fort Madison, Iowa, which had been built in 1808, had been aban- 
doned in the early part of November, 1813. 

Causes of the War of 1812. 

The treaty of Paris, made in 1783, in which Great Britain acknowl- 
edged "the freedom, sovereignty and independence of the United States" 
was virtually a truce, and not a full adjustment of the difficulties exist- 
ing between Great Britain and the United States. In that treaty Great 
Btitain agreed to surrender certain forts in the northwest territory, but 
many of the forts in this territory were retained, among them Detroit, 
Michilmackinac, Niagara and others. 

1. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. 2, page 209. 


Shortly after the cessation of hostilities, the British began inciting the 
Indians against the Americans. President Washington, as early as 1794, 
in speaking of British interference in the northwest territory, said : 
"For there does not remain a doubt in the mind of any well informed 
person in this country, not shut against conviction, that all the difficul- 
ties we encounter with the Indians, their hostilities, the murders of help- 
less women and children along our frontiers, result from the conduct of 
the agents of Great Britain in this country." He further said: "Seducing 
from our alliance tribes that have hitherto been kept in peace and friend- 
ship with us at a heavy expense, they keep in a state of irritation 
the tribes that are hostile to us, and are instigating those who know 
little of us. It is an undeniable fact that they are furnishing the whole 
with arms, ammunition, clothing and even provisions to carry on the war. 
I might go further, and if they are not belied, add men also, in disguise. 
* * * It will be impossible to keep this country in a state of amity with 
Great Britain as long as these forts are not surrendered." (1) 

The French traders at Prairie du Chien lost no opportunity to incite 
the Indians against the Americans, partly to monopolize their trade and 
partly to secure their friendship in case a war should break out between 
the United States and England. 

In 1811, N. Boilvin, United States Indian agent, at Prairie du Chien, 
wrote the Secretary of War, William Eustis, of the feeling of the French 
and British traders toward the American traders, and urged the govern- 
ment to erect a fort at Prairie du Chien. which, owing to its central posi- 
tion, would put an end to the intercourse between the Canadian and 
British traders and the Indians, and which would end the discrimination 
against the American trader. (2) 

During the year 1811, Robert Dickson, an English trader at Prairie 
du Chien, had been active in gathering together, between three and four 
thousand Indian warriors with which to attack the frontiers of Missouri 
and Illinois, but these forces were more needed in the early part of 1812 in 
Canada, and the west was probably thus saved a bloody border war. (3) 

The British traders continued openly to display their ill will toward 
the Americans and their government secretly incited the Red man against 
our people. After the declaration of war against Great Britain, most of 
the Indians of the northwest territory openly sided with Great Britain. 

When on June 18, 1812, the American Congress declared war against 
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and their depend- 
encies, it was not only on account of the grievances we had against Great 
Britain for searching our ships and harassing our merchant marine, but 

1. Letter of President Washington to John Jay. 

2. Illinois, (The Edwards Papers) pages 59 to 6a. 

3. Smith's History of Wisconsin, Vol. I, page 237. 

also owing to the British interference upon our frontier. This declara- 
tion of war was forced upon our government by the long continued acts 
of injustice suffered by our country. 

The Sacs and Foxes. 

The upper Mississippi Valley, from the Missouri to the Wisconsin river, 
was the home of the Sac and Fox Indians, of whom, in 1812, there were 
about twelve hundred warriors. These Indians were closely allied, and 
while not one tribe, acted in concert. They were a warlike people who 
had fought their way from the St. Lawrence river to Green Bay, Wiscon- 
sin, where they remained for some years and sustained themselves against 
hostile tribes. Sometime between the years 1728 and 1746, they removed 
to the lower Rock river and upper Mississippi Valley region, driving away 
from this country and eventually almost exterminating the Illini confed- 
eracy of Indians who had up to this time occupied the hunting grounds 
of western Illinois. The Sacs and Foxes have warred with the Sioux, 
Pawnee, Osage, Cherokees, and other fierce warriors of the west and suc- 
cessfully held their own. The Foxes' principal villages being on the west 
side of the Mississippi river, while the Sacs inhabited what is now Illi- 
nois, the latter had their principal village on the east side of the peninsula 
formed by the meeting of the Rock and Mississippi rivers, about a mile 
above the ,mouth of Rock river, and about three miles south of Rock 
Island, in the Mississippi, and in 1810, it consisted of nearly two hundred 
lodges and had a population of some two thousand people. The Sacs 
and Foxes cultivated over two thousand acres of the fertile land lying 
between and at the junction of the Rock and the Mississippi rivers, 
raising beans, pumpkins, squash and corn, but mostly the latter, and 
in the early days of the nineteenth century they sold corn to the white 
people living in the upper Mississippi valley. ( 1 ) . This village 
was Black Hawk's home until the year 1832, when he and the last of his 
people were forcibly removed west on the Mississippi. 

The Sacs and Foxes were always friendly toward the English, and at 
the commencement of the war of 1812, a large number of them, mostly 
Sacs, under Black Hawk's leadership, fought with the British. This 
party, or band, after that was always called the " British band." 

The Rangers. 

In 1812, Congress, largely through the effort of Shadrock Bond, then 
territorial delegate in Congress and afterward Governor of Illinois, passed 
1. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI, page 112. 


an act calling for the organization of ten companies of Territorial Rangers, 
four companies being assigned to Indiana, three to Missouri, and three to 
guard the Illinois frontier. (1) 

These Rangers were a hardy lot, accustomed to frontier life, to endure 
hardships and privations, and they became a most valuable acquisition to 
the small force of regular soldiers stationed on our frontier. 

Benjamin Howard was Governor of Missouri Territory in 1813, but re- 
signed his office and was appointed Brigadier-General, serving from March 
12, 1813, up to the time of his death, which occured at St. Louis, on Sep- 
tember 18, 1814. Howard had command of the Rangers of Illinois and 
Missouri Territories, know as the Eighth Military Department. 

The First Expedition. 

So emboldened had the Indians become, and so grave the fear of an in- 
vasion by the British and Indians upon our northwestern frontier, that 
Nimian Edwards, Territorial Governor of Illinois, on March 27, 1813, 
wrote the Secretary of War: "If the British erect a fort at the mouth of 
the Wisconsin, and should be able to retain it two years, this, and Missouri 
Territory will be totally deserted ; in other words, conquered." 

At the beginning of the year 1814, it was decided to take measures 
whereby the Indians of the upper Mississipi river could be controlled. 

The first operation decided on, was to build a fort at the village of 
Prairie du Chien. General Howard being absent. Governor Clark of 
Missouri, fitted out an expedition of one hundred and forty men, mostly 
of the Seventh Regiment of Rangers, and sent them up the Mississippi 
in five armed barges or keel boats. 

Prairie du Chien at that time, was in the possession of the British. 
Twenty days before Clark's expedition reached the place, Dickson, the 
trader, left for Macinac with some three hundred Indians. Dickson bad 
gained information of the American expedition through his Indian spies, 
and left Captain Deace, a British officer, with a small body of Fencibles 
(volunteers) and a few Sioux and Fox Indians to guard the place. (2) 

Governor Clark's expedition left St. Louis about May first. At the 
mouth of Rock river, the Governor says, he met some disaffected Sacs 
and Foxes upon whom he fired ; some canoes were taken, with the arms 
of the affrighted savages, who sued for peace on any terms. These 
Indians were Foxes and lived at Dubuque. Peace was promised them 
on condition they would join against the enemies of the United States 
and immediately commence hostilities againt the Winnebagoe, M'hich 
they agreed to do. 

1. Illinois. (The Edwards Papers) pages 93 to 97. 

2. Annals of the West, (1857) page 911. 

Upon arriving at Prairie du Chien, the Sioux and Fox Indians refused 
to fight the Americans; the inhabitants fled and they were followed by 
the British garrison. Clark took possession of the village, and Lieutenant 
Joseph Perkins, who was acting ensign, with sixty men, occupied the 
house of the Macinac Fur Company, in which they found nine trunks of 
Dickson's property, containg his papers and correspondence. They im- 
mediately set about to build a fort, which when completed, was named, 
Fort Shelby, in honor of Governor Shelby, of Kentucky. (1) 

Governor Clark, with several gentlemen who had accompanied him on 
the expedition, together with Captain John Sullivan and his company of 
militia whose term of office (sixty days) had expired, returned to St. 
Louis in one of the barges about the 1.3th of June, leaving Lieutenant 
Perkins in command, also leaving the two largest gunboats, one of which 
had been named "Governor Clark." Captain John Sullivan and Captain 
Yeizer were left in command of the boats. (2) 

These gun boats were nothing more than keel boats, strongly fortified, 
and supplied with six pounders and howitzers. The men being protected 
by a musket proof barricade. 

Upon Governor Clark's return to St. Louis, he was tendered a public 
ovation, all of the citizen turning out and welcoming him as a hero, but 
subsequent information and events ruthlessly deprived him of his easily 
won military glory. (3) 

The last of June, Captain John Sullivan, with a company of militia and 
some volunteers whose term of service had expired, arrived in St. Louis 
with one gunboat. This left Lieutenant Perkins, with only sixty men, 
and the gunboat "Governor Clark," and her crew, commanded by Cap- 
tain Yeizer. to guard the new fort. 

Upon the return of General Howard to St. Louis from a visit to Ken- 
tucky, and learning that Governor Clark had left with Lieutenant Perkins, 
only a small number of men with which to complete the fort and hold it 
against the attacks of the British and the Indians, and realizing the impor- 
tance of this post, and its danger, he immediately ordered another expedi- 
tion fitted out which should bring relief to the weakened garrison at Fort 

Keel Boats. 

The keel boat used in these days was a large covered boat, or barge, 
having a cabin extending above the deck ; the sides of the cabin being 
far enough in from the gun wale to allow a passage way along the outside 
of the deck. These boats were used to carry merchandise and passengers 

1. Niles' Register, Vol. VI, page 436. 

2. Annals of the West, (1857) page 913. 

3. Davidson & Stuve's History of Illinois, page 279. 


and were propelled by poles and oars. Some had sails, and when so 
equipped, the bottom of the boat was supplied with a keel, from which 
the boats took the name of keel boats. 

Campbell's Expedition. 

On .July 4, 1814, the second expedition left Cape au Gris. It consisted 
of three fortified barges, or keel boats, each with a cabin and all having 
sails. There were thirty-three regular soldiers and sixty-five rangers, 
some of the latter being Frenchmen from Cahokia. The expedition 
including the sutlers establishment, boatmen, and women and children, 
making one hundred and thirty-three persons. This expedition was 
commanded by Lieutenant (acting Brigade Major) John Campbell of 
the First Regulars (infantry), who with the contractors and sutlers, 
women and children, occupied one boat. The two other boats be- 
ing occupied by the Rangers and were commanded by Lieutenant Stephen 
Rector, and Lieutenant Jonathan Riggs. The number of Regulars in 
this expedition has been repeatedly given as forty-two; Major Camp- 
bell, however, reports that he had but thirty-three. 

On the thirteenth of the month, about eighty miles below the mouth 
of Rock river, they met a party of Indians from Prairie du Chien, with 
a packet directed to Governor Clark. These Indians informed Camp- 
bell that everything was quiet, and that the garrison at the Prairie had 
been completed. The same day Lieutenant Rector, of the Rangers found 
a canoe which had a considerable quantity of Indian property in it, 
and which had just been abandoned. (1) 

On the eighteenth of July, about twenty miles below Rock river, the 
expedition was met by a party of nine Indians in canoes, bearing a white 
flag, who informed Major Campbell that they had heard of the Ameri- 
can's approach and had come to conduct them to their own town, and to 
inform them that the Sacs and Foxes were friendly disposed. The In- 
dians left the keel boats a few miles below the mouth of Rock river, 
at the mouth of which the boats were met by five other Indians in 
canoes, who informed the commander that the Indians at the village on 
Rock River, about a mile above its mouth wished to hold a council with 
him. The keel boats proceeded up the river and landed on the Illinois 
shore opposite the lower end of Rock Island. In a short time, about 
one hundred and fifty warriors, besides women and children of the Sac 
and Fox nation appeared. Black Hawk was at the head of the party. 
He approached Major Campbell and asked if he had brought any presents 
for him from his father. Major Campbell told Black Hawk he 

1. Official report of Lieutenant Campbell to General Howard. 


had, provided he fulfilled the promises he had made his father 
in the spring, which was to go to war with the Peaus (Winnebagos.) 
Black Hawk replied that he had made his father no such promises, 
and that his " father was drunk when he said so," but that he was ready 
to go to war with the Peaus if the government would furnish him with the 
means. He further said : "The Mississippi is a broad and straight road 
and the people of the TTnited States shall meet with no obstructions in 
traveling." (1) 

During the evening the Indians were very friendly, recognizing many 
old friends among the Frenchmen from Cahokia. 

The Battle of Campbell's Island. 

On the morning of July 19, before breakfast, the boats all set sail and 
started up the river, with a fine breeze. During the night a party of Indians 
arrived at the Sac village from Prairie du Chien, coming down Rock river 
bringing the Sacs six kegs of powder and telling them that the fort 
at Prairie du Chien had been captured by the British. These mes- 
sengers told the Sacs that the British wished them to again join them 
in the war against the Americans, which the Indians agreed to do. 

Black Hawk's memory is at fault, he does not state exactly what 
these Indian messengers told him. Colonel McKay, whose army of 
British and Indians had attacked Prairie du Chien, in a letter to his 
superior officer, under date of July 27, 1814, says that on the seven- 
teenth of July about three o'clock in the afternoon, after the gun boat 
"Governor Clark" had been driven from its position by the Britit^h 
cannon and had started down the river, that he immediately sent ofi' 
a canoe with three men, an lowan, who had come from Mackinac with 
him, and two of the six Sauks, who had joined him on the Fox river, 
that he gave them four kegs of gun powder and ordered them to pass 
the "Governor Clark" and get as soon as possible to the Rapids at the 
Rock river, where he believ.ed the gun boat would run aground ; that 
they should collect all the Sauks and annoy the "Governor Clark" and 
prevent their landing to get fire wood, etc. (2) 

Black Hawk collected his warriors and determined to attack the boats 
which had now started up the river, as Black Hawk says : "I collected 
my warriors and determined to pursue the boats, I immediately started 
with my party by land, in pursuit, thinking that some of their boats 
might get aground, or that the GREAT SPIRIT would put them in 
our power, if he wished them taken." (3) 

1. Official report of Lieutant Campbell to General Howard. 

2. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol XI. pag-es 264 to 2t)S. 

3. Autobiography of Black Hawk, (18a4) page 57. 


The boats had just passed the head of Rock Island, when the boat 
commanded by Major Campbell was grounded on the rocks, and he 
was compelled to discharge and put off part of her loading into the 
other boats before he could release his boat. 

After proceeding about six miles the wind increased to a hurricane. 
Campbell's boat being still heavily loaded he says: "I was afraid of 
her dashing to pieces on the rocks, and ordered her to be put to shore, 
which in doing from the severe gale of wind which was blowing, and 
the roughness of the water dashed her so hard on shore it was impos- 
bsile to get her off while the storm lasted." The boat was driven on 
the north shore of an island lying about six miles east of Moline and 
which since that day has been known as Campbell's Island. It lies 
near the eastern shore and belongs to the state of Illinois. 

Black Hawk says, "About half way up the rapids I had a full view 
of the boats, all sailing with a strong wind, I soon discovered one boat 
badly managed and was suffered to be driven ashore, by the wind, 
they landed by running hard aground, and lowered their sail, the others 
passed on." 

The ground where the boat landed was covered with high grass, 
hazel and willow bushes for a considerable distance up and down the 
shore. Campbell immediately placed two sentinels about sixty yards 
from the boats, and the men commenced getting their breakfast. 

They had not been on the Island more than twenty-five or thirty 
minutes when the Indians commenced their attack, both sentinels were 
killed the first fire, and one other man on shore. Campbell ordered the 
cable cut and the boat to be gotten off, in doing of which two men 
were killed and three wounded. Finding the gale blowed directly on 
land, and that it was impossible to get her off, he ordered his men to 
defend the boat to the last extremity. (1) 

The boats of Lieutenants Rector and Riggs were about three miles 
up the river at this time. Lieutenant Riggs' boat being in advance he 
heard the report of the firing and saw the smoke rising from where 
Campbell's boat lay, he tacked his boat and signalled Rector, who 
tacked his boat and both sailed for Campbell's boat. Rector's boat 
being the first to reach the scene of the battle. Savages were seen 
among the trees and bushes, and a large number of Indians were seen 
coming in canoes from the eastern shore. It was estimated that about 
four hundred Indians surrounded them. The savages commenced giv- 
ing their war-whoop and pouring in on them a fire of musketry and 
arrows. Major Campbell's right wrist was fractured by a musket ball 

1. Official report of Lieutenant Campbell. 


during the first onslaught, and he was carried into the cabin of his 
boat and laid on a bunk, while his men gallantly returned the fire of 
the Indians. 

Campbell's boat was so near the bank that the Indians were able to 
fire in at the port oar holes. The storm had now become so violent 
that it was fully an hour before the other boats were able to come to 
Campbell's assistance. 

Riggs' boat was driven ashore about one hundred yards below Camp- 
bell's boat, and Rector to avoid a similiar fate, had let go an anchor, 
and layabout twenty yards above Campbell's boat, the rangers from 
both barges kept up a brisk fire on the Indians. 

This unequal contest waged for several hours, when the firing from 
Campbell's boat becoming less frequent, led Lieutenant Rector to believe 
that most of Campbell's men were either killed or wounded. 

Riggs' boat was the best fortified, but his crew had been weakened. 
When Campbell's boat was stranded on the rocks he sent a sergeant 
and ten men to help him off, and Campbell did not return the men. 

Rector's boat had among its crew many of the French from Cahokia 
who were experienced sailors. The wind was still a raging tempest, 
and the fire of the Indians was becoming more destructive to the boats ; 
at this time Black Hawk says: " I prepared my bow and arrows to 
throw fire to the sail, which was laying on the boat, and after two or 
three attempts succeeded in setting the sail on fire." (1) Campbell's boat 
was soon in flames. Lieutenant Rector could not remain inactive and 
witness the horrible death of Campbell and his companions. In the 
face of the tempest and the galling fire of the foe, he cut his anchors, 
a number of his men got out into the water, keeping the boat between 
them and the Indians, they pushed their boat against the fire of the 
Indians up to Campbell's boat. The wounded in Campbell's boat were 
first transferred to Rector's boat, and then those who were unhurt ; so 
loaded was Rector's boat that the water was running in at the oar 
holes and almost all of their provisions were thrown overboard to 
lighten the boat. The Indians all the time kept up a murderous fire. 
In taking the men from Campbell's boat the Major was shot through 
the body. Black Hawk in his autobiography states at this time : "We 
wounded the war chief." 

Rector's men still in the water, and keeping the boat between them 
and the Indians, hauled their boat out into the stream, swimming 
alongside of the boat until the channel was reached and the boat had 
been carried out of gunshot, when they climbed into the boat. Rector's 

1. Autobiography of Black Hawk, (1834) page 57. 


boat was crowded, but the men took to their oars and rowed night and 
day until they reached St. Louis. 

The casualties were : killed on Campbell's boat, ten regulars, one 
woman and one child ; on Rector's boat, one ranger ; and on Riggs' 
boat, three rangers ; a total of sixteen. 

Wounded on Campbell's boat, ten regulars and one woman ; on 
Rector's boat, four rangers ; and on Rigg's boat four rangers, also 
Major Campbell and Dr. Stewart, the garrison surgeon, who was shot 
in the breast ; a total of twenty-one, making the total casualties thirty- 
seven. All fought with the courage of heroes. Rector and his men 
risked their lives to save their comrades, and the battle at Campbell's 
Island has no equal for daring and heroism during the war of 1812 in 
the West. 

Lieutenant John Weaver, of the Regulars, who was second in com- 
mand on Campbell's boat acted bravely, it was largely by his exertions 
that the wounded were safely transferred to Rector's boat. 

Almost all of the ammunition for the expedition and the supplies for 
Fort Shelby, except a box of musket balls, was on Campbell's boat and 
wascaptured by Black Hawk, nothing was saved. The Regulars fought 
with their shirts off, and saved only their arms and fatique overalls. 

Official Reports. 

Major Campbell, in his report says, "I am much indebted to 
Lieutenant Rector of the rangers for his prompt obediance my orders 
to his coolness may be attributed the saving of the lives of the few 
men that remained on board the boat that was on fire." 

Lieutenant Riggs in his report says that as he neared Campbell's 
boat he saw a British flag on the shore and attempted to halt opposite, 
but that the wind was so violent that he was driven quite ashore in 
spite of his anchor, he then opened fire on the enemy at a distance of 
about thirty paces, but that his boat had stranded in such an awkward 
position that they were very much on the alert to defend themselves. 
During the engagement a man jumped out of Campbell's boat and 
swam toward Riggs'. He was shot and killed. After Rector's boat had 
taken on Campbell's men and had gotten away she was about a mile 
down stream before Riggs' discovered it, he says : 

" We then discovered that the Major had gone on board of Lieuten- 
ant Rectors's boat and gone off, and was actually about a mile down 
the river without giving us any orders, or notice of his departure. We 
discovered the boat to be on fire and Indians attempted to board her, 
which we prevented by our well directed fire. We attempted to 


change our position and get off if possible, but could not, but drifted 
up between the stern of the Major's boat that was on fire and the 
shore. We again exerted ourselves and fell into a better position. 
Our swivel now could bear upon the Major's boat. The Indians had 
boarded her and put out the fire. We soon dislodged them. They 
rallied a second time, and were repulsed with considerable loss bj^ our 
small arms ; they made an attempt to board us but onh' three had the 
bravery to reach the boat, two of them escaped, the third we detained 
in this situation. We fought until half an hour by sun, when the Indians 
ceased firing and the wind abated, we pushed off. As soon as they 
discovered us going they commenced a heavy fire from the shore and 
kept it up in chase until dark. I believe that if I had been aided 
only by Lieutenant Rector's boat I could have brought off the Major's 
boat, for after the second repulse they did not dare return whilst we 
stayed. The next day I landed and hurried the dead with the honors 
of war (as well as we could)." (1) 

Riggs shows the soldier and true hero, in closing his report he says, 
"I beg also to recommend my brave companions to your remembrance 
for I candidly confess that until that day I never knew the extent of 
the braverv of man." Black Hawk in his books says of Riggs: "I 
had a good opinion of this War Chief — he managed so much better 
than the others. It would give me pleasure to shake him by the hand." 

Rector's boat with Campbell's men arrived at St. Louis first and 
when the news spread that Lieutenant Riggs and his men had been 
left on the Rock Island rapids, fighting the Indians, it was feared 
that all were captured by the Indians and when Riggs' boat later 
arrived at St. Louis on the twenty-sixth, there was great rejoicing and 
the occasion for a general jubilee. The entire company presented a 
distressing sight. Those not wounded were worn down to skeletons by 
labor and fatigue. (2) 

Black Hawk Celebrates. 

After Riggs' boat had gone. Black Hawk's men began to plunder 
Campbell's boat. The first thing that the Chief did was to knock the 
head in of several barrels of whisky, which he termed ''Bad Medicine'''' 
and emptied their contents on the ground. He says, "I next found a 
box full of small bottles and packages, which appeared to be Bad 
Medicine also ; such as the medicine men kill the white people with 
when they get sick, this I threw into the river." (3) The rest of the 

1. Official report of Lieutenant Riggs 

2. Reynolds, ("My Own Times") page 101. 

3. Autobiography of Black Hawk, page 59. 


plunder, which consisted of guns, clothing, provisions, powder, etc. was 
loaded into their canoes and taken to the Fox village opposite the 
lower end of Rock Island, where Davenport now is. Before leaving the 
Indians took the scalp from Campbell's five dead regulars, and as 
Black Hawk said when he got to the Fox village, "We commenced 
dancing over the scalps we had taken." 

Black Hawk's opinion of whisky as a medicine must have changed 
over night, because he does not complain at the soldiers giving to him 
and his men, whisky the evening before, yet the next day he thought 
it "Bad Medicine." 

While Black Hawk and his Indians were dancing over their scalps 
several boats passed down the river, among them a large boat " carrying 
big guns." These boats were the "Governor Clark" and the contractor's 
and sutler's barges from Prairie du Chien, which garrison Campbell's 
expedition was intending to strengthen, but which had been attacked 
by the British under Col. McKay, on the seventeenth, two days previous. 

Captain Yeizer and his gun boats leaving Prairie du Chien during 
the afternoon on the first day of the attack and started for St. Louis, 
leaving Lieutenant Perkins and his command, which consisted of sixty 
men, together with two women and one child, to hold the fort which 
surrendered July 20, after a four day's seige. (1) 

Press Reports. 

After the return of the expedition to St. Louis the following acount 
appeared in a newspaper at that place : 

"Lieutenant Rector, after a contest of two hours and twenty minutes 
withdrew to a favorable position, which enabled him to save the few 
regular troops so well from the flames, which surrounded them, as the 
fury of the savages, the high wind which then prevailed, and the loss 
of his anchors, prevented his rendering a like assistance to Lieutenant 
Riggs. The later though stranded and in a hopeless situation kept up 
an incessant fire on the Indians, and by a ruse de guerre afforded his 
party an opportunity of making the savages feel some of the conse- 
quences of their perfidy. He ordered his men to cease firing for about 
ten minutes, and at the same time ordered howitzers to be well loaded 
with grape and small arms to be in readiness. The Indians believing 
the rangers to be all killed, or that they had surrendered, rushed down 
the bank to extinguish the fire on Lieutenant Campbell's barge, and to 
board Riggs. Our hero then opened upon them a well directed fire, 

1. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI, page 274. 


which drove them in all directions, leaving several of their dead 
behind." (1) 

Unjust Criticism. 

Major Campbell has by some writers been criticized for the defeat 
of his troops at the Battle of Campbell's Island, some claiming that 
he did not place pickets to guard his camp, others that he was warned 
of a threatened attack by the Indians and disregarded the warning, 
and others that he was inexperienced, one write says: 

"The officers being unacquainted with Indian manners imagined the 
savages to be friendly, to this fatal security may be attributed the 
catastrophe." (2) 

Another says: "Many of the French, after the battle informed me 
that they knew the Indians would attack the boats, and accordingly 
they informed Lieutenant Campbell, but he disbelieved them. The 
French said that the Indians wanted them to leave the Americans 
and go home. They would squeeze the hands of the French, and pull 
their hands down the river, indicating to leave. The Indians disliked 
to fight their old friends, the French." (3) While still and another 
said, "Lieutenant Campbell disobeyed orders, was heedless, kept out 
no spies." (4) 

The first statement is not correct. Major Campbell was an experi- 
enced soldier, and had seen over six years of service at this tim.e. 
As to his being notified of a threatened attack and that the 
Indians were unfriendly is evidently incorrect. Black Hawk himself 
says that Campbell's expedition was well received at Rock Island and 
and that he and his band had no intention of hurting him or any of 
his party at this time, and that they could easily have defeated him, 
had the Indians intended any injury to Campbell's party it would 
have been much easier to have attacked them while the Americans 
were encamped at Rock Island than to have followed them up the 
river, not knowing when or where the Americans would land, and 
probably landing on the opposite shore to where the Indians were and 
where they had no means of crossing the river. After an occurence of 
this kind, there are always those who "knew before." As to Camp- 
bell's disobeying orders and not placing out pickets. I believe Camp- 
bell when he says, "I placed two pickets." He reported to his superior 
General Howard, that pickets were placed, and were it a fact, that he 
omitted to place pickets. Lieutenant Weaver, and others who were on 

1. Missouri (St. Louis) Gazette. July 30. 1814. 

2. Missouri (St. Louis) Gazette, July SO, 1814. 

3. Reynolds, ("My Own Times") page 99. 

4. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI, page 200, and Davison & Stuve's History of Illinois, 

page 279. 


Campbell's boat would have reported such a gross neglect of military- 

The Campbeirs Island engagement rightly portrays the Sac ond Fox 
Indians; Bancroft says of them, "A nation passionate and untamable, 
springing up into new life from every defeat, and though reduced in 
the number of their warriors, yet present every where by their ferocious 
enterprise and savage daring." It can truly be said of this people, 
they made peace one day and unhesitatingly broke it the next. It 
was Indian warfare. The ambush and surprise. 

Indian Losses. 

Black Hawk, says, that he had but two of his band killed in this 
engagement, and while we have no historic data to contradict him, 
it is safe to say in view of all the information obtainable that an 
engagement of this moment lasting from ten o'clock in the forenoon, 
until six in the evening and where the Americans had sixteen killed 
and twenty-one wounded, that the Indians must have suffered quite 
a loss. 

Black Hawk's autobiograephy is generally quite truthful and accurate, 
but it is Indian character to magnify personal victories and to remain 
silent or foregetful of personal defeat. 

Major Campbell says, "The enemy must have suffered considerably 
as the fire was returned without the least intermission and we fre- 
quently raked the banks with our swivel." 

The Indian report of this engagement, was a highly colored account; 
Colonel McKay in his report to Colonel McDouall, his commanding 
officer states that some days after the battle some of the Sauks came 
up from Rock river, stating that they had attacked six barges con- 
taining Americans, that they killed one hundred persons and captured, 
among other things five pieces of cannon, he ends his report by saying 
"This is perhaps one of the most brilliant actions fought by Indians 
only since the commencement of the war." (1) 

The Derelict. 

Lieutenant Campbell's boat lay for many years on the north shore, 
of Campbell's Island, just below where the present bathing establish- 
ment now stands. Benjamin Goble. an old settler often told of seeing 
the hull inbedded in the sand. He says: 

"Soon after Stephens left, two men named Smith, took possesison 
of his claim, there were two cabins on it; but neither had a floor. 

1. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI, page 264. 


The river was low, so that the hull of the barge burned by the Ind- 
ians at the time of Campbell's defeat in 1812, (a mistake, it was 1814) 
was plainly visible. The Smiths got the hull a shore, found the planks 
in a good state of preservation and floored their cabins with them." (1) 
This was in 1829. The Stephens whom he mentions was a planter 
from the South, who located where Walker Station, two miles east of 
Moline, now is, and who brought with him some twenty slaves. This 
addition to the population of Rock Island county so incensed the 
settlers, that Joseph Danforth in October, 1829, went to Galena (there 
being no magistrate nearer) and procured a warrant for Stephens ar- 
rest. The latter learning of this, took his slaves and started south on 
a flat boat. This was the first and last time, that slaves were ever 
tried to be introduced, into Rock Isladd county. Although in early 
days ofiicers stationed at Fort Armstrong and coming from the South 
brought black bond men as servants. 

A Conflict of Dates. 

The date of the Battle of Campbell's Island has been a mooted 
question, some authorities give it as July 19, and some as July 21, 1814. 

Lieutenant Campbell in his offical report to General Howard sent 
from St. Louis and dated July 24, 1814, speaks of it as occuring on 
the twenty-first of July, and Lieutenant Riggs in his report to General 
Howard from Dardienne, dated July 26, 1814, refers to it as "the at- 
tack upon us on the twenty-first instance" ordinarily this should settle 
the question and fix the date as July 21, but the records of the War 
Department give it July 19 1814. 

It is possible that both Lieutenants Campbell and Riggs were mis- 
taken as to the date. They of course being among the principal actors 
should under ordinary circumstances know, but in those times when 
away from civilization, men did not keep a record as is done today, 
and it is possible that their idea of the date was wrong. 

Campbell's report in other particulars, does not bear out the date 
of the twenty-first. He speaks of meeting a party of nine Indians on 
the eighteenth instant, "about twenty miles heloiv BocJc Biver,^^ and 
who left the Americans a few miles below the mouth of Rock 
river and that the keel boats "proceeded on about four miles and 
halted." here, he met Black Hawk and one hundred and fifty warriors, 
women and children. He further says, "we lay at four miles encamp- 
ment above Rock river until the morning of the twenty-first, when I 
again put out." 

1. Pioneer Life in Illinois, Benjamin Goble. 


Had Campbell stayed at "four mile encampment" Rock Island from 
the eighteenth to the twenty-first, he would have made mention of 
that fact in his report to General Howard. 

The object of this expedition was to give speedy relief to the weak- 
ened Garrison at Prarie du Chien, and it is not probable that Camp- 
bell Avould idle away two days at Rock Island, when he does not 
mention any cause for keeping him there. 

That they did not stay more than one night at "four mile encamp- 
ment" is borne out by Black Hawk who in his autobiogrophy says 
"they (Campbells expedition) remained with us all day" and it was 
during that night that the Indians got word, that Prairie du Chien had 
fallen, and it was early in the morning that Black Hawk concluded 
to attack Campbell's boats, at which time he says, the boats had 
sailed. Black Hawk says; "They appeared friendlj^, and were well received. 
We held a council with the War Chief. We had no intention of hurt- 
him, or any of his party, or we could easily have defeated them. They 
remained with us all day long, and used and gave us plenty of 
whisky." (1) 

John Rej'nolds who met the soldiers on their return to St. Louis, 
who went to see them and talked with them, says that "the boats lay 
all night at or near the Sac and Fox village at Rock Island" and 
that "the fleet all set sail in the morning." (2) Davison and Stuve 
also state that the expedition, "laid up for a night." (3) 

The Pioneer History of Illinois also fixes the date of the battle as 
July 19, 1814. (4) 

The attack on Prarie du Chien commenced at half past one o'clock 
in the afternoon of July 17; Captain Yeizer's Gun Boat "Governor 
Clark" was attacked at three o'clock (5) and was struck several times 
when it was concluded to move down the river which was done and 
the "Governor Clark" started that afternoon (the seventeenth) for St. 
Louis running through a line of the enemy's fire for nearly nine miles, 
and it is safe to presume that Yeizer and his crew wasted no time in 
getting to St. Louis, where they arrived on Sunday the twenty-sixth, 
two days after Rector's arrival, making the distance of five hundred 
and six miles in nine days, an average of fifty-five miles each day. (6) 
Captain Yeizer and his boats "lay to" over the night of the 19th, and 
the other boats undoubtedly rowed such parts of the night as it was 
possible for them to proceed. (7) 

1. Autobiogiapby of Black Hawk, page 57. 

2. Reynolds. ("My Own Times") page 409. 

3. Davison & StuVe's History of Illinois, page 279. 

4. Pionetr History of Illinois, (Reynolds) page 409. 

.5. Letter of Captain Yeizer to Governor Clark at St. Louis. July 28, 1814. 

Western Annals, (1857) page 913. 
(). Missouri Gazette, July 30. 1814. 
7. McAffee's History of the Late War. page 443. 


Black Hawk after the battle came down the river landing on the 
western shore, opposite the lower end of Rock Island where he made 
his camp, using the "new lodges" (tents captured on Campbell's barge) 
he hoisted the British flag and the Indians danced over the scalps 
taken from Campbell's Regulars, while dancing he says several boats 
came down the river among them one having "big guns." (1) These 
boats were Yeizer's Gun Boat "Governor Clark" and the sutlers and 
Contractors barges which left Prarie du Chien together on the after- 
noon of the seventeenth, Yeizer on approaching the Rock Island Rapids 
sent his skiff with nine men to reconoiter these men discovered Riggs 
boat engaged with the Indians and Campbells boat on fire. These 
appearances induced the boats crew to return. Before dispatching the 
men in the skiff to reconoiter, Yeizer had joined the Sutlers and the 
contractors barges. (2) During this time Lieutenant Riggs had cleared 
his boat and started down the river and later in the evening Captain 
Yeizer and his boats came down the river passing Black Hawk's 
Camp during the Scalp dance. 

The official report of the British officer commanding at Prairie du 
Chien, states that in the afternoon when the "Governor Clark" had cut 
her cables and run down the river, that he sent two boats in pursuit; 
that these boats had a slight engagement with the "Clark," and followed 
her till within one league of the Rock River rapids, so that it is safe 
to presume that Captain Yeizer wasted no time in his trip from 
Prairie du Chien to where he reached Campbell's Island, and that he 
arrived there on the evening of the nineteenth. 

Thus Black Hawk's account as dictated nineteen years after the 
engagement at Campbell's Island fully corroborates the account given 
by Captain Yeizer to the St. Louis newspapers about a week after the 
battle, and shows that the battle at Campbell's Island was on the 

These keel boats did not travel nights, they either anchored in the 
stream, or tied up on some small Island or secluded spot on the 
shore, and it would have been an impossibility for Rector's boat having 
his Company of Rangers, Campbell's Regulars, the sutler, the women 
and the wounded and dead on board to have traveled from Camp- 
bell's Island to St. Louis, a distance of five hundred miles in three 
days, to do this they must have averaged one hundred and sixty- 
eight miles a day. 

Lieutenant Campbell makes his report to General Howard from St. 
Louis under date of July 24, 1814, and if his dates are correct he 

1. Autobiography of Blauk Hawk, (1834) page 59. 

2. Missouri Gazette, July aO, 1814. 


must have traveled from Campbell's Island to St. Louis during the 
time from Thursday evening, July 21, to Sunday, July 24, clearly au 
utter impossibility. 

Francis Heitman who published under an act of Congress "A His- 
torical Register of the United States Army," gives the date of this 
battle as July 19, and in his reference to Lieutenant Campbell and 
Dr. Stewart states they were wounded at this engagement on that day. 

Black Hawk was mistaken when he says the party from Prarie du 
Chien told him that the fort had been taken. His autobiography was 
dictated nineteen years after the event happened, he may have forgot- 
ten, whether they said the fort was tal{.en or attached, and it is more 
than probable that the message conveyed to Black Hawk was pur- 
posely exaggerated to incite Black Hawk to more readily join the 
British, furthermore Prarie du Chien capitulated on the twenty-first, the 
same day as the battle of Campbell's Island. 

In view of the above facts there can be no question but that the 
battle at Campbell's Island occurred Tuesday, July 19, 1814. 

Wrongly Named. 

The thought may possibly suggest itself to the reader that Camp- 
bell's Island is a missnomer. That the Island should have been 
named Rector's Island, or Rigg's Island, as the latter were more 
valorous and did more useful and gallant service. 

Those who know the history of this battle know to whom common 
justice will assign the meed of praise. Lieutenant Campbell was unfort- 
unate, at the commencement the enemy's bullets laid him low before 
he could distinguish himself. Yet his commanding officer General 
Howard, in his report dated August 1, 1814 to the Hon. John Arm- 
strong, Secretary of War sounds Campbell's deserved praise, he says 
""the intrepid conduct of Major Campbell was such as might he expected 
from his known character for bravery, combined with experience.''' 

That our Government does not forget its heroes, we need but refer 
to the records of the War Department, on the roll of honor, we find 
a list of officers on whom brevets were conferred by the President for 
"gallant action, or meritorious conduct." During the four years of 
the war of 1812, the President of the United States specially honored 
150 officers, among that roster we find in 1814 the names of, 

Stephen Rector 
Jonathan Riggs. 


Might have been Worse. 

Campbell's expedition though disastrous, probably prevented a more 
wholesale butchery of American soldiers. Colonel McCay who captured 
Prairie du Chien, and Lieutenant Perkins and his sixty-six soldiers, 
two women and one child, intended to keep the prisoners until he had 
information of Campbell's expedition and if Campbell's boats came to 
Prairie du Chien and fired a single shot, he intended sacrificing the 
Americans to the Indians. (1) 

The "Governor Clark." 

For those times the "Governor Clark" was quite a formidable boat, 
and a description of her as written by a British officer at the tim.e 
she was at Prairie du Chien may be of interest. 

She mounted fourteen pieces of caimon, some six, three and a num- 
ber of coehorns, and when manned carried some seventy or eighty 
men with fire arms, and measures seventy feet keel. This floating 

block house is so constructed that she can be rowed in any direc- 
tion, the men on board being perfectly safe from small arms while 
they can use their own to the greatest advantage. She goes remark- 
ably fast, particularly down the current, being rowed by thirty-two 
oars. (2) 


I have tried to trace the history of the brave men who took part in 
this sanguinary battle, but have been unable to glean but little, and 
that which I have found, I discovered as it were piece meal, here 
and there, I give what it has been my good fortune to learn, regret- 
ting that accounts and records of the early days in the "Far West" 
are so meager and uncertain. 

The army record as given below is taken from "Heitman,s His- 
torical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army," and 
"Hamersly's Army Register of the United States." 

Captain John Campbell. 

The commander was born in Virginia and entered the army at an early 
age, he was commissioned an Ensign in the First Regiment of In- 
fantry (Regular Army) on June 13, 1808, and served in this regiment 

1. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI. page 268. 

2. Wisconsin Historical Series, Vol. XI. page 264. 


until his discharge. On December 31, 1809, he was promoted to a 
second lieutenancy ; on January 20, 1813, he was commissioned a 
first lieutenant ; and on May 2, 1814, was promoted to a captaincy ; 
and saw considerable of Indian war fare. In the year 1811 he was 
engaged in erecting small block houses or family forts in the center and 
southern part of the State of Illinois, one of which on the west bank 
of the Illinois river (Prairie Marcot) nineteen miles above its mouth, 
he garrisoned for some time, with a force of seventeen men. (1) 

During the expedition which ended in the engagement at Campbell's 
Island, and in which he was twice wounded, he was acting Brigade 
Major and is referred to by his fellow officers as Major. In his report 
of the Campbell's Island engagement which he makes to General 
Howard, his commanding officer, under date of July 24, 1814, he 
signs himself "First Lieutenant, U. S. I.," yet the army records show 
that on May 2, of that year, he had been commissioned a captain. 
It is likely that his commission had not arrived at the time he left 
St. Louis, on the trip that ended so disastrous to him and his compan- 
ions. He was honorably discharged from the service on June 15, 1816. 

Lieutenant Stephen Rector. 

Was also a Virginian, and was commissioned a lieutenant of Ran- 
gers on August 1, 1813, and brevent second lieutenant, July 13, 1814. 
A writer on early Illinois History gives an interesting sketch of the 
Rector family, which is worthy of reproduction, he says: 

The family in Illinois was numerous and conspicuous in pioneer 
times. There were nine brothers and four daughters of the family. 
They were born in Farquier County, Virginia, and many of them were 
raised there. Some of them had emigrated to Ohio and others to 
Illinois. The family was singular and peculiar in their traits of char- 
acter. They were ardent, excitable and enthusiastic in their disposi- 
tions. They possessed integrity and honesty of purpose in the highest 
degree, nature had endowed them with strong and active minds, but 
their passions at times swept over their judgements like a tempest. 
They were the most fearless and undaunted people I ever knew. Dan- 
gers, perils and even death were amusements for them, when they 
were excited, they were impulsive and ungovernable, when their pass- 
ions were enlisted. They were the most devoted and true hearted friends, 
and the most energetic and impulsive enemies to any one they thought 
deserved their hatred. The family, in their persons were generally large 
and formed with perfect manly symmetry. They were noble, com- 

1. Davison & Stuve's History of Illinois, pages 250, 251. 


manding and elegant in their bearing, and their personal appearance, 
was for manly beauty, not surpassed in the territory. They possessed 
an exquisite and high sense of honor and chivalry. An msult was 
never offered to any one of them that went unpunished. "The whole 
Rector family were patriotic and were always willing and ready on all 
proper occasions, to shed their blood in the defense of their country." (1) 
Lieutenant Stephen Rector was honorbly discharged June 15, 1815. 

Lieutenant Jonathan Riggs. 

Was a Missourian and enlisted in the Rangers, and on March 26, 
1814, he was commissioned an ensign; on July 13, 1814, he was 
commissioned brevet third lieutenant ; and on the same day was made 
a second lieutenant. 

He was honorably discharged on June 15, 1815, and died February 

20, 1834. 

Lieutenant John Weaver. 

Was a Kentuckian, and was made an ensign in the seventh regi- 
ment (Regulars) of Infantry on February 10, 1812; on March 12, 1813, 
he was promoted to a third lieutenancy; on October 11, of the same year 
he became a second lieutenant; and on May 15, 1814 he was com- 
missioned a first lieutenant; he was honorably discharged on June 
15, 1815 and died August 29, 1821. 

Dr. Abraham Stewart. 

Was born in Massachusets and was commissioned a garrison sur- 
geon's mate on March 6, 1806; wounded at battle of Campbell's Island 
July 19, 1814, and resigned from the service March 20, 1816. 

Black Hawk. 

The subject of this sketch was a Sac (Sauk) Indian and was born 
at the Indian village near the mouth of Rock river, in 1767, and died 
at his home on the Des Moines river bottoms, Davis County, Iowa, 
on October 3, 1838, in his seventy-first year. His Indian name was 
Makataimeshekiakiak, or Black Sparrow Hawk, commonly called Black 


Black Hawk's father, Py-e-sa was the Medicine man of the Sacs 

and consequently Black Hawk although in after years a War Chief 

could not boast of princely blood, he was a made, not a born Chief 

1. Pioneer History of Illinois, (Reynold's) page 353. 


Of his history we must rely mostly altogether upon his own state- 
ments. In 1833, directly after the Black Hawk war, the then old 
Chief dictated to J. B. Patterson, an account of his life. Antoine Le 
Claire for many yeaas an honored and prominent citizen of Davenport 
Iowa, and who was United States Interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes 
at Fort Armstrong on Rock Island at this time, acted as interpreter. 

This autobiography was first published in book form in 1834. Since 
which time various editions have been published, as well also num- 
erous books and articles about and referring to Black Hawk. 

Some of the writers have undertaken to make a hero of the Sac 
chief, others with equal zeal have tried hard to picture him a villian, 
few seemed to understand that Black Hawk was a Red man, born and 
reared among a savage race, whose instincts, passions, and desires 
were inherited. Whose companions and people were like him and 
whose surroundings and conditions were not such as those enjoyed, 
who would undertake to portray his character. 

To write a biography of an Indian is a difficult task. It matters 
not how eventful his life or how distinguished his services, it is seldom 
that any but the most prominent events are remembered. Having no 
means of recording events, all of the facts and deeds of every day life 
that go towards the making of character are soon forgotten. 

The information we receive is mostly all from those whose knowl- 
edge of early Indian character was obtained from such intercourse with 
the Red man, as these people had when they fought the Indians, 
and when they drove them from their homes. 

In 1788, while in his fifteenth year, Black Hawk accompanied his 
father as a volunteer on an expedition against the Osages. In the 
battle that followed. Black Hawk says, "Standing by my father's side, 
I saw him kill his antagonist, and tear the scalp from his head. 
Fired with valor and ambition, I rushed furiously upon another, smote 
him to the earth with my tomahawk, run my lance through his body, 
took off his scalp and returned in triumph to my father." Upon ar- 
riving home the young Sac was for the first time allowed to join in 
the scalp dance. 

We who today are living on the soil that Black Hawk and his 
people once held as their own, possibly shudder at the thought of a 
fifteen year old boy killing a human being, and then deliberately cut- 
ting off from the head, part of the scalp, but we must remember that 
this Indian boy's father did the same, all his companions believed it 
right. In Indian life it was an heroic deed, and we must judge the 
young Sac according to his surroundings. 


History tells us that a youth was once sent with food to his brothers 
who were off fighting the battles of their Country, that while in Camp 
he engaged in single combat, the Champion of the enemy, that he 
slew him and that he drew the slain enemy's sword from his sheath 
"and cut off his head therewith." 

In each case these youths did what their fathers had done before 
them and what their surroundings and their social and family life 


David became great in Israel, Black Hawk was driven from his 
home and has been denounced because he did that which in his time, 
among his people, he was taught was right. 

I only cite this case to thow that criticism of character and of deed 
should at least be governed both by circumstances and surroundings. 
The age we live in and its civilization should be the standard. 

Black Hawk from his last exploit gained considerable reputation as 
a brave among his people, and in the course of a few months led a 
party of seven against the Osages. The enemy numbered a hundred. 
Black Hawk attacked them, he himself killing one man and then 
successfully led a retreat arriving home without any loss. This last 
engagement he says gained him "great applause" and before a great 
while he was enabled to raise a party of one hundred warriors with 
which he again marched against The Osages, whose Country was on 
the borders of the Missouri river. 

They found the village of the enemy deserted, which caused dis- 
apointment among the Sacs and all but five braves returned home, at 
the head of this little band Black Hawk says he "took to the trail of 
our enemies," they killed one man and a boy, and then returned home. 

After this for some time Black Hawk was not able to muster any 
force with which to fight, but in his nineteenth year he was again at 
the head of two hundred warriors. The Sacs and Foxes met the 
enemy in the latters Country, both parties were evenly matched, and 
both fought desperately. The Sacs and Foxes triumphed and put the 
Osages to flight. Black Hawk says the enemy lost about one hundred, 
of whom he killed six one of whom was a squaw, whose death was 

His next expedition was against the Cherokees, who had murdered 
some of the Sac women and children. Black Hawk's father P5^-e-sa 
was in command of this party. They met near the Merrimac river. 
The enemy was much stronger than the Sacs and Foves, Py-e-sa was 
mortally wounded and Black Hawk assumed command; the Sacs and 
Foxes were victorious, killing twenty-eight of the enemy. Black Hawk 
killing three. The Sacs and Foxes looseing but seven men. 


At the close of the battle, Py-e-pa died and Black Hawk eayg,,, I 
now fell heir to the Great Medicine bag of my forefathers, which had 
belonged to my father." 

Black Hawk returned to his village sad and sorrowful, blackened his 
face, and "fasted and prayed to the Great Spirit for five years." 

During this time the Osages again began killing the »Sac and 
Foxes and Black Hawk once more started out with a war party, but 
only found six of the enemy and he says, "Their forces being so weak, 
I thought it would be cowardly to kill them, but took them prisoners 
and carried them to our Spanish Father at St. Louis, gave them up 
to him and then returned to our village." 

Upon his arrival home he determined on the final extermination of 
the Osages for the injuries that had been done by this tribe to his 
nation, and he immediately commenced recruiting a strong force, and 
in the Spring of that year with five hundred Sacs and Foxes and one 
hundred lowas he marched against the enemy, (me afternoon just about 
sun down he came upon a village of Osages containing forty lodges. 
Black Hawk's band attacked the village and it is said killed all of the 
inhabitants excepting two squaws, whom they made prisoners. 

On returning home, the killing of his father by the Cherokees so 
weighed upon his mind that he became anxious to avenge his fathers 
death, and determined to annihilate the Cherokee nation. He re- 
cruited a large number of warriors, and started upon his trip but was 
unable to find anj^ of his old enemies. His band, however captured 
five Cherokees; four men and one woman, the former he released, and 
the latter a young squaw, he brought home. He says, "Great as was 
my hatred for this people, I could not kill so small a party." From 
this time until ISll the Sacs and the Foxes were engaged in various 
battles with the Osages and the Cherokees, and an occasional engage- 
ment with the American settlers and soldiers. During the year 1811, 
Black Hawk and his party made an unsuccessful attack on Fort Madi- 
son. Early in the year of 1812, our government requested the presence 
of some of the Indians, at Washington ; On their return they stated 
"that their (4reat Father wished them in the event of war taking place 
between the United States and England, not to interfere on either side, 
but to remain neutral, that he did not want their help but wished 
them to hunt, and support their families and live in peace." 

Black Hawk says that the Americans promised to furnish them with 
goods and that when they went to the trader at Fort Madison, he told 
them that "he had received no instructions to furnish them anything 
on credit, nor could he give them anything, without receiving the pay 
for them on the spot." The Indians left the Fort dissatisfied. 


Alliance with the British. 

The next morning a canoe arrived, bringing a messenger with the news 
that LaGutrie (Girty), a British trader, had landed at Rock Island 
with two boats, loaded with goods, and that he requested the Indians 
to come up immediately, that he had good news for them and a 
variety of presents. The Indians immediately started for Rock Island, 
upon their arrival Girty divided between them two boat loads of pro- 
visions, supplies and other articles as presents. Girty told them that 
Col. Dickson wanted Black Hawk to raise a party of warriors and 
to proceed with them to Green Bay where they would meet Dickson. 
The Indians readily agreed to this. Black Hawk says: "here ended all 
hopes of our remaining at peace, having been forced into war by being 
deceived." A party of two hundred warriors were soon gathered, and 
with Black Hawk at their head they proceeded to Green Bay where 
Dickson had collected a large number of Indians and British soldiers.^ 

Upon his arrival at Green Bay, Black Hawk was cordially received 
by Colonel Dickson, who told him that the Americans wanted to take 
his County from him, and that his English Father had sent him, 
(Dickson) and his braves to drive the Americans back to their own 
Country. He placed a medal around Black Hawks's neck, gave him 
a certificate of good behavior and a silk flag, and told Black Hawk 
that he was to command a party of braves, who would leave the next 
day for Detroit. This flag, medal and certificate were carefully pre- 
served, until at the battle of the Bad Ax in 1832, when Black Hawk 
lost them, they being afterwards found on the battle ground. (1) 

Black Hawk says he was much disappointed, as he wanted to de- 
scend the Mississippi and make war upon the settlements. Dickson 
however, said he had been ordered to lay the country waste around St. 
Louis, but that there were no soldiers there now, and that Black Hawk 
should go where there were plenty of soldiers. The next day Black Hawk, 
with five hundred Indians started on his march to join the British at Detroit, 
and passed Chicago a few days after the Massacre at Fort Dearborn. 
Black Hawk took part in the battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813. 
after which he returned home. The next engagement of any note that 
the "British band" took part in, was what is commonly called the battle 
of the "Sink Hole" where he had a severe encounter with United 
States Rangers, in which one Indian was killed. From this time until 
the battle at Campbell's Island, nothing of any consequence occurred 
in the life of Black Hawk. 

I. Drake's "Life of Black Hawk," page 79. 


Indian Life. 

"It is due to the Indian character to state, that the only main road 
for an Indian to distinguish himself and become a great man is in 
war. So soon as he kills or wounds an enemy, he may paint on his 
blanket a bloody hand, which will entitle him to a seat in the Councils. 
This standard of character and honor makes it the duty, rather than 
a crime, of an Indian to appear foremost in the ranks of the war- 
parties, so that he may be a warrior, and not such a bad character as 
he is sometimes esteemed by the whites."' (1) 

Indian life consisted of hunting and fishing and making war, the 
latter being the great business of their life. And when in 1812, while in 
Washington the representatives of the Sac and Fox nation offered their 
assistance to the United States, and it was declined, they felt that 
they ought as a matter of course take sides with one party or the 
other, and when they afterwards went to St. Louis and again offered 
their services to our (xovernment and which offer was also declined, 
they very naturally, when the British agents came to them with flatter- 
ing offers, listened to their words, which resultedin in ducing a part of 
the Sac and Fox nation to espouse their cause and take sides with the 
British. This number did not greatly exceed two hundred. Black 
Hawk was their leader, and this band became the famous " British 

His ( 'baracter. 

The best criticism that has been passed upon Black Hawk is by 
Reuben Gold Thwaites, a gentlemen whose life has been given to the 
study of Northwest history and whose writings clearly rank him the 
foremost scholar in the history of our early Northwest. 

He saj^s "Black Hawk was an indiscreet man His troubles were, in 
the main, the result of lack of mental balance, aided largely by 
untoward circumstances. He was of a highly romantic temperament; 
his judgement was warped by sentiment; and tricksters easily played upon 
this weakness. But he was honest, more honorable, often than those who 
were his conquerors. He was above all things a patriot. In the year 
before his death, he made a speech to a party of whites, who where 
making a holiday hero of him, and thus forcibly defended his motives; 
"Rock river was a beautiful country. I liked my town, my cornfields, 
and the home of my people. I fought for them." No poet could 
have penned for him a more touching epitaph. (2) 

1. '-My Own Times," (Keynolds) page 204. 

2. Essays in Western History: How George Rogers Clark won the Northwest, (Thwaites 

pag'e 19t). 


In his domestic relations, Black Hawk was a kind husband and an 
affectionate father, and while polygamy was practiced among the Sac 
and Foxes and other Indians, Black Hawk never had but one wife. 
After his return from his campaign in 1813, his first act was to go to 
his home and he says, "I then started to visit my wife and children, 
I found them well and my boys were growing finely. It is not cus- 
tomary for us to say much about our women, as they generally per- 
form their part cheerfully, and never interfere with business belonging 
to the men. This is the only wife I ever had, or will ever have. She 
is a good women, and teaches my boys to be brave." (1) 

His Religion. 

In his autobiography. Black Hawk in speaking of his starting in 
pursuit of Campbell's party says; that he thought probably the GREAT 
SIRIT would put them in our power, if he wished them taken, and 
afterwards in speaking of the engagement says, "This boat the GREAT 
SPIRIT gave us." 

In numerous places in his autobiography he mentions the GREAT 
SPIRIT, and there is no question but that he and his people were 
greatly influenced by their religious belief. 

In speaking of their religion he says: "Every one makes his feast as 
he thinks best to please the GREAT SPIRIT, who has the care of all 
beings created;" some believe in two spirits, one good and one bad, 
and make feasts for the bad spirit to keep him quiet. 

In a further discussion of this question he said: "For my part I am 
of opinion that so far as we have REASON, we have a right to use it 
in determining what is right or wrong, and should pursue that path 
which we believe to be right, believing that whatever is, is right, — if the 

GREAT and GOOD SPIRIT wished us to believe and do as the 
Whites, he could easily change our opinions, so that we would think, 
and act as they do. We are nothing compared to his power, and 
we feel and know it. We have men among us like the Whites, who 
pretend to know the right path, but will not consent to show it without 
pay, I have no faith in their paths — but believe that every man must 
make his own path." 

"We thank the GREAT SPIRIT for all the benefits he has conferred 
upon us, for myself, I never take a drink of water from a spring with 
out being mindful for his goodness." 

A writer, who visited the Sacs and Foxes in the early part of the 
last century and who made their life a study, in speaking of their 

1. Autobiography of Black Hawk, pages 77, 78. 


religion says, "They believe in one GREAT and GOOD SPIRIT, who 
controls and governs all things, and supernatural agents who are per- 
mitted to interfere in their concerns. They are of opinion that there 
is also a bad spirit, subordinate, however to the great Manito, who 
is permitted to annoy and perplex the Indians, by means of bad med- 
icines, by poisonous reptiles, and by killing their horses and sinking 
their canoes. All their misfortunes are attributed to the influence of 
this bad spirit, but they have some vague idea that it is in part per- 
mitted as a punishment for their bad deeds. They all believe in 
ghosts, and when they fancy that they have seen one, the friends of 
the deceased give a feast and hand up some clothing as an offering 
to appease the troubled spirit. So far as the cermonials are con- 
cerned, the Sacs and Foxes may be called a religious people. They 
rarely pass any extraordinary cave, rock, hill or other object, without 
leaving behind them some tobacco for the use of the spirit who they 
suppose lives there. They have some kind of prayers, consisting of 
words which they sing over in the evening and at sunrise in the 
morning." (1) 


It was not my purpose to write a biography of Black Hawk, I 
believed that a short sketch of his life up to the time of the 
battle of Campbell's Island would be of interest to all those who 
cared to read the history of that ill fated expedition. Black HaAvk's 
career from 1814 to 1832, which includes the rivalry and jealousies 
between him and the Fox Chief, Keokuk for leadership of the allied 
tribes, the causes leading up to the Black Hawk war. The unfort- 
unate killing of the bearer of a flag of truce and the attack upon a 
party suing for peace, which precipitated a war that could have been 
averted, would require more space than I am able to assign to this 
subject at this time. 

In this sketch I wished merely to note a few of the important 
events in the life of a Red man who though not bom in the purple 
yet rose to the command of his people and has made a name in his- 
tory that is both more widely condemed and equally more widely and 
more fervently praised, than any other one of his Race, in the Country 
he lived in. 

1. Drake's Life of Black Hawk, page ae